Learn to Play the Blues Classic ‘Careless Love’

Excerpted from Arranging Folk and Blues Songs

“Careless Love” is a classic blues tune from the early-20th-century New Orleans jazz songbook. New Orleans’ trumpeter Buddy Bolden’s band, one of the pioneering groups in Dixieland style jazz, was known for its version of the song.


The song has since been recorded by artists ranging from Pete Seeger to Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan. The song’s melody has been a vehicle for many lyrics, all revolving around love, betrayal, and murder, perennial subjects for traditional music.

Like many traditional tunes, “Careless Love” has been arranged in many different styles, mostly leaning toward blues and jazz—although it has survived country, folk, and pop treatments as well.

Inspired by Lonnie Johnson’s version on his 1965 recording Unsung Blues Legend: The Living Room Sessions, I decided on a bluesy ballad interpretation. Johnson’s recording of “Careless Love” has a relaxed, mournful vibe that I pursued rather than any particular guitar figures.

I put it in the key of E, a great solo-guitar key and, luckily, a good singing key for me. You’ll notice that while I vary the accompaniment patterns throughout the tune, I try to never lose the feeling of the pulse, the relaxed groove.

That’s more important than any of the notes.

Orville Johnson
Orville Johnson

Orville Johnson is a guitarist, dobro and lap steel player, teacher, recording artist, and writer based in the Pacific Northwest.

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